It doesn’t have to be this way. In the ILO’s latest report on the Future of Work, experts advocate for a human-in-command approach to technology, to enhance work rather than be controlled by it – a far cry from a determinist rhetoric about robots taking over. Start thinking of robotics, big data systems or the Internet of Things as tools for improving conditions or work, and the potential becomes enormous. We have already seen, for example, how automating certain production processes, like denim distressing, can make work safer. Heat and light sensors can help monitor and improve workplace conditions, even at a distance. Mobile apps can expand workers’ awareness of their rights, and digitising salaries can improve their payment on time. Up-skilling workers can boost their incomes and productivity, especially when women are trained to take positions of leadership.
The latest ILO research, coupled with our own on-the-ground experience, suggests that while certain segments of the industry are adapting quickly to new technologies, the most labour-intensive parts of manufacturing – such as cut, make and trim – are not. This suggests a huge opportunity. In the decade ahead the garment industry will create millions of jobs in places where people badly need them. Most of these people will be young women, many will be migrants and almost all will be among the bottom 40% of the world’s poor. If those jobs are safe and secure, they can be transformative. The fashion industry can lift millions of people out of poverty by providing decent work, empowering women and driving inclusive economic growth.
To seize this opportunity, great leadership is required. It’s time for big conversations. What is the future of work that we want to see in the fashion industry? Let us determine this through a people-centred approach. And then design the technical solutions that fit our common purpose.
Global Fashion Agenda has reached out to industry leaders to get their perspective on the priorities in the CEO Agenda and how to get closer to solutions. The think pieces are a reflection of their personal or organisation’s approach to the issues and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinions and views of Global Fashion Agenda and its Strategic Partners.